Swing & Jazz Dance Styles

It’s difficult to feature all the dance styles that exist under the umbrella of jazz & swing in just one weekend. At The New Orleans Swing Dance Festival, we mostly focus on Lindy Hop and dances that are done to jazz, swing, & blues. The list below is to give you an idea of how expansive and wonderful swing dancing is. Many of these definitions have been taken from Wikipedia and do not begin to explain the nuance of each style’s history and cultural context. There are also many other dances to add here.

Lindy Hop

The lindy hop is a partner dance which was born in the Black American community in Harlem, New York City in the early 20th century and has evolved since then with the jazz music of that time. It was very popular during the Swing era of the late 1930s and early 1940s and is danced globally today. It is an improvisational jazz dance and is a member of the swing dance family. It is also known as the grandfather of all swing dances.


Tap dance is a form of dance characterized by using the sounds of tap shoes striking the floor as a form of percussion. Two major variations on tap dance exist: rhythm (jazz) tap and Broadway tap. Broadway tap focuses on dance; it is widely performed in musical theater. Rhythm tap focuses on musicality, and practitioners consider themselves to be a part of the jazz tradition.

Balboa/Balboa Swing

The Balboa is a swing dance that originated in Southern California in the early 20th century and enjoyed huge popularity during the 1930s and 1940s. The term Balboa originally referred to a dance characterized by its close embrace and full body connection. Balboa-Swing features not only the close embrace connection but also spins, throw-outs, and other ways of breaking away.


Blues dancing is a family of historical dances that developed alongside and were danced to blues music, or the contemporary dances that are danced in that aesthetic. Being that there are many interpretations of blues dancing it is incredibly hard to describe on paper.


Jazz dance is a classification shared by a broad range of dance styles. Before the 1950s, jazz dance referred to dance styles that originated from African American vernacular dance. The term jazz dance encompasses any dance done to jazz music, including both tap dance and jitterbug. In the modern swing dance community “jazz dance” often (but not always) refers to various styles of expression done without a partner to jazz music.

St. Louis Shag

St. Louis Shag is a swing dance which originated in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1930s. Most likely descending from the Charleston, St. Louis Shag features a stationary 8-count basic that is most commonly composed of triple-step, kick, triple-step, kick.

Collegiate Shag

Collegiate Shag is a partner dance done primarily to uptempo swing and pre-swing jazz music. It belongs to the swing family of American vernacular dances that arose in the 1920s and 30s. Characteristics are a pulse that’s consistently held up high on the balls of the feet (a.k.a. a “bounce” or “hop” to match every beat in the music) and footwork with kicks.

Carolina Shag

The ‘Carolina Shag’ is a partner dance that originated in the Carolinas in the 1940’s danced to Beach music and embodies the smoothness of West Coast Swing and the stretch and timing of Lindy Hop. Perfect for all types of jitterbugs!


Steppin’ (or Chicago Steppin) is an urban dance that originated in Chicago and continues to evolve while defining its unique style and culture within the context of mainstream Swing dance. Stepping has gained popularity, particularly in the urban neighborhoods of America. “Chicago-Style Stepping” makes reference to other urban styles of dance found throughout the United States larger enclaves in cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Detroit Ballroom

Detroit Ballroom is an 8 beat, 10 step (as opposed to Chicago Steppin, 6 beat, 8 step), urban swing dance that originated in it’s Detroit, MI. It’s rhythm is identical to Lindy Hop; double, triple, double, triple. It can be danced to up tempo music like Lindy Hop but it has evolved, like the teenagers who started Lindy Hop in Harlem, it “matured” to a smooth Cha Cha rhythm of 95 to 110 bpm. It reflects the style and culture of the blue collar auto-workers of the motor city and was strongly influenced by Motown’s, Hitsville sound of Barry Gordy.

West Coast Swing

West Coast Swing is a partner dance with roots in Lindy Hop. It is characterized by a distinctive elastic look that results from its basic extension-compression technique of partner connection, and is danced primarily in a slotted area on the dance floor, often to blues, pop, disco, and country music.